Damn heavy shoes!

I open the first age-stained envelope dated MAR 1, 9 PM, 1943, from Ayer, MASS, Fort Devens STA., with the word “FREE” handwritten in place of a stamp, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Bernier, 10 Pond Street, Dorchester, Massachusetts.  No zip code needed.

Dear Folks,

Haven’t anything to do this afternoon so I thought I’d write. I’ll begin from the time I left home. Arriving at the Draft Board, I was given charge of the train ticket for the four of us. We left North Station at 8:15 and arrived here at 9:05. An army truck met us at the station and brought us to the receiving office. We were then checked off and sent to a supply depot. There we received raincoats, towels, and toilet-kids. My raincoat would just about fit Frank MacLean and myself. From there we were taken to our barracks and issued bedding. These barracks are two-story, wooden buildings, sleeping about 60 apiece. We have double-decker steel cots, mattresses, two blankets, two sheets, a pillow, pillow-case, and a comforter. It’s very comfortable and I always get a good night’s sleep. We were also given mess kits and over-shoes.

After lunch, we were taken to a school-like building and given our I.Q. tests. These consist of three tests, each of 150 questions. The first one is a mechanical aptitude test; the second is a radio telegraphy test; and the third is a General Aptitude test. The marks you receive go with you thru out (sic) your army career and are considered at every advancement you may get. The results are not made known to you, but I think I did fairly well on them.

The same night we were marched up to the dispensary and given a vaccination and some kind of a shot. The next morning everybody had stiff arms, from the effects of the shot. This wore off in a couple of days and all were happy.

We then were interviewed by soldiers who are trained in that line of work, and who can get all the information they want from you. The fellow that interviewed me was concerned about my telephone experience and recorded it all on my card. After this we went to a ware house and got our uniforms. It’s quite a place. You go in one door and come out another a half an hour later with all your clothing. Here is a list of the equipment:

2 winter uniforms – pants and shirt

2 summer     “            “                    “

2 fatigue        “           “                    “

1 winter hat

1 summer hat

1 fatigue hat

1 helmet hat

1 helmet

2 pairs of winter underwear – long drawers

3     “         summer        “

3     “         work socks

3      “        dress socks

2     “         damn heavy shoes

1 field jacket

1 blouse – dress coat

1 overcoat

1 pair of gloves

1 belt

2 neckties

4 handkerchiefs

1 mess kit – which we had to turn in

1 canteen

1 barracks bag – to put everything in

1 basic field manuel (sic)

We were given the afternoon off to roam around. The next morning I was bagged for K.P. by a very polite sergeant, who woke me up at 4:40 A.M., while the rest of the crowd I came with was shipped out. Friday was the longest day I ever put in, fourteen and a half hours of hard work. That nite the barracks was full again with fellows from Worcester. Today they all left, and I’m practically alone again.

Well that’s about all I can think of for now, but I’ll write later.         Love, Murray


Gas, tennis, measles and dirt.

Betwee April 4th and 8th of 1943, Dad experienced his first gas mask drills. The first came after some tragic news of an Engineering Lieutenant and several of his men who were killed when a faulty fuse failed to trigger at the right moment.

“The other night I was tired and went to bed early. Some of the fellows came back from the P.X. [post exchange…the army equivalent of a department store] crying and laughing at the same time. Somebody either planned or accidentally dropped a case of tear gas. Immediately the alarm was given to put on our masks. In my first experience with gas, where was I but in bed, reading a magazine with my gas mask on.”

I want to know what magazine he was reading! The second drill came after receiving the results of his IQ test; he explains that “If you get 110 you qualify for Officers candidate school,” and he earned a 122/150.  “When we got back we were told to prepare for a tornado. We had to wear gas masks, rain coats and helmets.” Fortunately, the tornado did not manifest, and the drill was called off. I wonder how the masks would have helped had the storm struck!

In these letters I start to sense that this young soldier may be a bit of a perfectionist. After apologizing for the quality of his writing, “(This penmanship is very poor as I am writing in bed),” he makes a generous offer to his younger sister…but with conditions!  “Tell Kay that if she gets the urge to play tennis, she can use my racket; but make sure she loans it to no one and always puts it in the press when not in use.”  I wonder how this proclivity will affect his behavior as his time in the army passes. I recognize hints of this trait in my oldest son, now the age my Dad would have been.

Dad wraps up these letters with a true sign of the times:  “Three out of six barracks in the company are quarantined on account of measles & mumps. Never a dull moment here,”  and then throws in the bit of humor that I will continue to search out in his messages home. “They say you have to eat a ton of dirt before you die. I’m well on my way to my last few pounds.”